Global manufacturer Mars Inc. announced its plans to rebrand Uncle Ben’s rice products yesterday in an effort to distance themselves from the brand’s racial-stereotype origins. Mars joins a widespread group of food brands, like Aunt Jemima
's parent company Quaker Oats, who plans on updating logos, packaging, and literally changing face to stop reinforcing harmful stereotypes. The Uncle Ben's brand has not shared a timeline of these changes as of yet.
“We recognize that now is the right time to evolve the Uncle Ben’s brand, including its visual brand identity, which we will do,” Caroline Sherman, Vice President of Corporate Communications and Corporate Affairs, said in the release.
Chemist Erich Huzenlaub and Texas food broker Gordon L. Harwell co-founded Uncle Ben’s. According to the New York Times, the real “Uncle Ben” was a “Houston rice farmer renowned for the quality of his crops.” Huzenlaub and Harwell borrowed this farmer’s story to round out their brand, but it’s still unclear whether that was known or unknown to Ben.
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Who is the face of Uncle Ben?
According to the Uncle Ben’s website, “the face appearing on all Uncle Ben’s packaging is that of Frank Brown, a maitre d'hotel (head waiter) at an exclusive Chicago restaurant who agreed to pose for the Uncle Ben’s portrait.” Has Brown and his family been compensated since Uncle Ben’s launch over 80 years ago? Cooking Panda couldn’t find evidence at the time of writing this article.
The inappropriateness of Uncle Ben’s origins “can be traced to the contentious history of Uncle Ben as the black face of a white company, wearing a bow tie evocative of servants and Pullman porters and bearing a title reflecting how white Southerners once used ‘uncle’ and ‘aunt’ as honorifics for older blacks because they refused to say ‘Mr.’ and ‘Mrs.’,” the New York Times wrote in a 2007 article. "
Before the civil rights movement took hold, marketers of food and household products often used racial and ethnic stereotypes in creating brand characters and mascots," they added.
A New Era
Criticism around Uncle Ben’s imagery isn’t new. But with the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, companies are now taking action to right their wrongs.
“Racism has no place in society. We stand in solidarity with the Black community, our Associates and our partners in the fight for social justice. We know to make the systemic change needed, it’s going to take a collective effort from all of us—individuals, communities and organizations of all sizes around the world,” Sherman said in the release.